Ahhh yes, another novel that is going to break my heart.
Germany, 1945. The soldiers who liberated the Gross-Rosen concentration camp said the war was over, but nothing feels over to eighteen-year-old Zofia Lederman. Her body has barely begun to heal; her mind feels broken. And her life is completely shattered: Three years ago, she and her younger brother, Abek, were the only members of their family to be sent to the right, away from the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Everyone else–her parents, her grandmother, radiant Aunt Maja–they went left.
Zofia’s last words to her brother were a promise: Abek to Zofia, A to Z. When I find you again, we will fill our alphabet. Now her journey to fulfill that vow takes her through Poland and Germany, and into a displaced persons camp where everyone she meets is trying to piece together a future from a painful past: Miriam, desperately searching for the twin she was separated from after they survived medical experimentation. Breine, a former heiress, who now longs only for a simple wedding with her new fiancé. And Josef, who guards his past behind a wall of secrets, and is beautiful and strange and magnetic all at once.
But the deeper Zofia digs, the more impossible her search seems. How can she find one boy in a sea of the missing? In the rubble of a broken continent, Zofia must delve into a mystery whose answers could break her–or help her rebuild her world.
Monica Hesse is the New York Times bestselling author of Girl in the Blue Coat, American Fire, and The War Outside, as well as a columnist at The Washington Post writing about gender and its impact on society. She lives outside Washington, D.C. with her husband and their dog.
Disclaimer: I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you to Fantastic Flying Book Club, Netgalley, and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for this free copy. All quotes in this review are taken from the Advanced Reader Copy and may change in final publication.
I feel like this line was where I knew that things were going to be different. Different from other WWII novels that I read, I mean. A lot of the WWII books out there take place in the midst of the war, in Europe, sometime before the war was over and things were getting bad. Honestly I feel like WWII should have its own genre because there are so. many. books. that deal with that topic, from the eyes of someone in Europe as someone affected by the war but not one of the main players in the war. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s been done. a. lot.
So imagine my surprise when I saw that this novel was more on the aftermath of the war, after Germany surrendered and Europe is trying to somehow get back to how things were. Well they will never be how things were, but try to somehow heal from all of the pain, death, and destruction that they had to endure during both wars. Yes, I say both wars because I’m pretty sure things weren’t at a copacetic level completely after WWI.
All our main character Zofia wants to do is to find her brother Abek since they were separated three years ago in Birkenau. He is the only family he would have left because everyone else was sent to the gas chambers. They made a promise to one another when they were separated, that no matter what, they would find each other again, and now that the war is considered over and Zofia is finally able to go back to her home, she’s hoping that he will have made it back home too.
But a lot can happen in three years, especially during times of war. Will Zofia be able to find her brother again? Is it even possible to find one person amidst thousands of displaced people trying to reunite their families? Is he even still alive? It has been three years since she last saw him and knew of his wellbeing. Who’s to say that something didn’t happen to him in between that time?
This story was one that was filled with a character trying to figure out how she can deal with the traumas that she endured for three years alone, in a world where all she wants to do is find the one family member she has left. The reader is pulled on an emotional roller coaster in a world that not many people ever talk about in literature, and it gives a new perspective on what actually happens after the “liberation” of those that were under the control of the Nazi regime for years. It shows that someone can’t just say the war is “over” without putting things into place, and that putting things into place to make lives better than their current circumstances is not as simple as saying “you’re free to go.”
I think this was one of the more heartbreaking playlists that I had to create. So if you cry, I did my job.